Another row over India-funded presidential mansion in Ghana

August 22nd, 2011 - 3:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Accra, Aug 22 (IANS) More than two years after the completion of the controversy-prone presidential mansion in Ghana’s capital built with Indian support, another storm has engulfed the project, suggesting that the serving president cannot live there because of security concerns.

In a radio interview, National Security Coordinator Larry Gbevlo-Lartey blamed former president John Kufuor, during whose regime the Golden Jubilee Presidential Palace was built, for not properly consulting security officials before constructing the mansion.

“The house, as it stands today, is too vulnerable and makes it unsafe for President John Mills to live in,” Gbevlo-Lartey added.

The building has been constructed on the grounds where the country’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, had his official residence, the Flagstaff House, which has been described by Gbevlo-Lartey as a “complete security enclave with the protection of the president guaranteed”.

“When Nkrumah was living there, it was a complete security enclave that was put up in such a way that you would have to be taken around before you will know where the leader is. Right now, it is not that way. The whole place is naked and standing there,” he added.

Another security issue that has come up over the few months is the proximity of the French embassy and attendant security risks.

“These things don’t take a day. It takes time. For instance, we are not going there with guns and asking the French embassy to pack out of the place.

“Everything in this country is done according to rule of law. These things take funds, it takes redesigning. The planning and preparation that should have gone into these things were completely ignored,” Gbevlo-Lartey added.

However, Frank Agyekum, spokesman for ex-president Kufuor, has disagreed with Gbevlo-Lartey.

“No serious government will put up such a crucial edifice without taking into consideration the president’s security,” he said.

Agyekum described Gbevlo-Lartey’s comments as “distasteful and unfortunate”.

President Mills generated some controversy when, soon after assuming office in January 2009, he refused to move into the building in line with his campaign promise that he would not live there because the money spent on the building could have been used on other things to benefit the poor.

But former president Kufuor has continually commended the Indian government for its decision to fund the building to serve as the official seat of government away from the present Osu Castle, which used to be a slave post.

Currently, the building is being used by the ministry of foreign affairs, which was relocated there following a fire that razed its offices in the centre of Accra.

Initial controversy was over the cost of the project. Originally estimated at $36.9 million. This was said to have shot up to $135 million with the provision of additional facilities to enhance external and internal security.

The amount included a $60 million facility from the Indian government that has a 50 percent grant element, at an interest rate of 1.75 percent, repayable in 25 years, including a five-year moratorium.

Shapoorji Pallonji and Co. Ltd. of India was named as the contractor of the project, which started in 2006 and was completed in 2008.

Last year, government sources claimed in newspaper leaks that official correspondence from the Indian consultants to the project, STUP Consultants Limited, put the cost of the complex at $135 million.

Soon after that, the government courted further controversy when it made moves to change the name of the place to Flagstaff House, the original name of the grounds where the building stands. Activists of the present government went under the cover of the night to change the name of the building.

Deputy Chief of Staff Alex Segbefia said at the time that the name change was effected because president Kufuor tried to wipe out the name of Kwame Nkrumah, which is synonymous with the Flagstaff House.

(Francis Kokutse can be contacted at fkokutse@hotmail.com)

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